– Peter Santoro –
What does mastery mean in the context of our classrooms? One definition of mastery is knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well. Why is the concept of Mastery Learning so relevant and important in education today? According to Lucie Renard, Mastery Learning aims to change the notion that some students are just not good at certain subjects, primarily by letting go of the concept that everyone is on the same time schedule. It requires more differentiated learning, giving students more time to go over the learning material, giving them extra explanation and support.
Reaching every student
My path to mastery began five summers ago at a Flipped Learning conference in Allen, Texas. I attended a session which was an introduction to Flipped Mastery. As a Math teacher, it made so much logical sense to me. I sent a text to my department chair as soon as the session ended, and I told him I absolutely wanted to implement mastery in my Introductory Calculus classes in the coming school year. (The student population in my Introductory Calculus classes is the bottom 40 percent of the graduating class). He immediately gave me his full support. He agreed that Mastery Learning makes perfect sense and that my students would benefit tremendously. When I got back to school that September I also told my principal about Mastery Learning and she gave me her full support as well.
My journey began that school year and I have not looked back. Since I began my mastery journey, I have refined, revised, tweaked and improved my practice and my students have achieved at higher levels each school year. Other benefits to Mastery Learning include an increase in student engagement, increased confidence among my students, and a significant decrease in my students’ stress and anxiety when taking quizzes and tests.
Students’ view of Mastery Learning
At the beginning of each school year, when I explain the Mastery Learning process to my classes, they are wary of the unknown. But after the first or second mastery check, the value becomes clear to them and then after every video lesson, they start asking me when the mastery check will be for that topic. They actually look forward to their assessments!
Below is the flowchart that I give each student to explain Flipped Mastery.
In a flipped classroom, everything begins with the video lesson. By embedding my lessons in EdPuzzle, I can insert questions and also make sure that my students all watched the lesson. If they have any questions about the lesson, they can type them in at the end of the video. Before class begins, I log in and check to see if any students had questions. If they did, I address them in the first few minutes of class. The group space activity is based on Active Learning strategies and I always allow enough time for students to ask questions; I quite often will do some small-group instruction for those students who need additional assistance.
When the students feel prepared, I give them a short five-problem mastery check. They need to get at least four correct to advance to the next video lesson. If they do not answer at least four problems correctly, I take some time with them, go over their misconceptions and give them a few more practice problems. After they complete this additional work, I give them a second version of the mastery check. After they pass this second mastery check, they move onto the next video lesson. This cycle repeats throughout the school year. As an aside, I count the mastery checks as five-point quizzes. I think it is important that students receive credit for assessments. In the case of a student taking a second mastery check, the higher grade counts and I disregard the original grade.
It’s hard but…
This entire Mastery Learning process is a lot of work and can be a record-keeping nightmare. What is the value of this process to my students? If you have ever struggled with differentiated instruction, as I did for many years, the combination of Flipped Learning and mastery allows me to differentiate my instruction in such a way that even my weakest students are able to achieve success in Introductory Calculus. Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem is what motivates me every day to work with my students and guide them to levels of achievement they never thought possible.
Let’s examine how Flipped Learning + mastery has been a game-changer for my students.
- My students are more engaged and connected to their learning. When my students realize that Flipped Learning gives them the opportunity to watch lessons as many times as they would like, it allows them to interact with the material in many ways and as many times as they need.
- When I speak with my students, they tell me that mastery “forces” them to learn. They understand they cannot hide; thus, everyone learns. My students tell me that this process shows them how to take responsibility for their learning, which in turn increases their motivation to do well.
- The mastery process gives students confidence in their learning. The assessments at every skill level gives them the feedback they need to keep learning. The sequence of lessons, practice, and feedback (mastery checks) gives them confidence at every step along the way. My students tell me that they have never had this level of engagement and feedback. As much as students complain about assessments, they never complain about mastery checks in my class because they see the positive effect on their learning and confidence.
- In Mastery Learning, students are also moving at a pace that coincides with their ability to learn and process new information. In my classes, the various groups of students may be doing as many as 4 or 5 different things. Every student is on task and focused on learning. My role in the classroom is now a mix of mentor, expert, coach, and sometimes ringleader! Outwardly, it may seem chaotic, but nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the most difficult things I had to do was give up that iron-fisted control of my classroom and give more control to my students. Once I did that, I saw my students flourish.
- In late October, I always ask my classes what they think about Flipped Learning. Students are so honest, it is refreshing to hear their thoughts. They tell me that they were somewhat skeptical about the entire process, but after seeing the benefits, they are now believers. I then ask their thoughts on Mastery Learning. Their responses are truly insightful. My most fragile students tell me that their stress and anxiety when taking quizzes and tests is significantly decreased. When I ask why they feel this way, they tell me that the mastery checks and the constant feedback give them the confidence to face quizzes and tests with the mindset that “I know it all because I proved my knowledge with all the mastery checks.” As a result of this, my classroom has become a place of learning where students feel safe and can make mistakes in an environment where learning is fun and they are supported and encouraged.
The process of Mastery Learning is what frees students to take responsibility for their own learning. When students are able to learn at their own pace and get feedback at every step along the way, it builds their confidence. These students, typically in the bottom 40 percent of the graduating class, are achieving success in Math that they never had been able to experience at any time in the previous three years in high school. In these classes, we have had a policy that if students maintain at least a 90 percent average in each of the four quarters, they are exempt from the final exam. The year before I started Mastery Learning, I had 47.5 percent of my students exempt from the final exam. In my first year of mastery, 79.6 percent of my students were exempt from the final exam. Each year I tweak my mastery Learning, thus producing a more refined process. This past school year, I had 90 percent of my students exempt themselves from the final exam. My own class results closely mirror Bloom’s research as described in the Two Sigma Problem noted above. My best advice to any teacher is to read the research into mastery Learning and proceed from there. After all, the reason we all show up at work every day is to give our students the best possible education, the best way we know-how. Flipped Learning + mastery allows me to Reach Every Student, in Every Class, Every Day, and it’s definitely the best way I know how to deliver the best education to my students.